Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
The New York City Police Department’s shooting death of Jeffrey Johnson will go before a Manhattan grand jury Monday. That’s standard practice for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in any fatal police shooting.
Police officials have said the shooting was justified, given the circumstances: Johnson had just fatally shot another man and then pointed a gun at two officers who approached him during rush hour on W. 33rd Street in Manhattan. Nine bystanders were also injured in the incident — all by NYPD bullets or bullet fragments.
Experts agree that the key issue in any review of this incident is whether the officers’ actions were reasonable.
“If the officers believed their lives or the lives of others are in danger, then they are authorized to use deadly force,” said Eugene O’Donnell, professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He said the next question is how much force is required to stop the threat.
“There’s no clear answer usually,” O’Donnell said.
A surveillance video of the incident shows Johnson pointed his gun at two police officers on a busy sidewalk. The officers fired, as people around them fled.
Below is video released by the NYPD of the officers' confrontation with Johnson. It contains graphic images.
While the shooting may be deemed justified, the incident has raised legitimate concerns over whether the NYPD's actions were a threat to public safety.
“It’s not the wild west,” said Sanford Rubenstein, a personal injury lawyer who has sued the NYPD in several high profile cases, including the death of Sean Bell, who was killed by police after leaving his bachelor party in 2006.
“People who are innocent bystanders should not be put at risk of death possibly, or being wounded, if it’s not ‘reasonable’ for the officers to take the action that they took,” said Rubenstein. He added he will meet with the family of one of the victims to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit.
According to NYPD data, the department has significantly reduced incidents of police involved shootings since the 1970's when it began documenting every time an officer fires a weapon.
At its peak, there were 994 incidents in 1972. In 2010, the most recent year data is available, there were 92 incidents.